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How to Address Biased Remarks at Work (and Keep Your Job)

It happens. You’re minding your business in the break room or in the restroom when you overhear a cringe-worthy comment. Or maybe you are engaged in some innocent workplace chatter during your downtime and someone cracks a joke that is so slimy you can taste the sludge of it on the back of your ethics and morality. These days, it may not even be so obvious, but the undertones of bias and prejudice in workplace dialogues and interactions can creep in and either make your blood boil or your skin crawl. You nervously look around for Jose Quinones to come out with the camera crew nonchalantly telling you that you have been captured on an episode of ABC’s “What Would You Do?”

So…what do you do?

Although your slightly self-righteous, mostly-diligent, freshly pressed and starched citizen cape may already be flapping with soapbox at the ready, before you open your mouth you may want to consider what it is you want to achieve. What would remedy this offense for you? An apology, retribution, atonement, education? Would that give you peace of mind that the behavior will not occur again? What is your relationship with the offender? How might it change? How might it change your work environment?

Before you vehemently accuse a person (“You’re a bigot/misogynist/homophobe!”) and label them with your judgment, carefully point out to the person your concerns about what was said (or done, if applicable). Stick to the facts. Your emotions might cloud your judgment if you have a vested interest in the outcome. State what those facts mean to you and be open to having a discussion about the other person’s perspective. Without making a personal indictment, you can acknowledge your willingness to give the person the benefit of doubt and create an opportunity for the person to feel safe talking about what was said by saying “I don’t think you realize how that came across…”

Then, breathe.

It is not your job to save ignorant people from themselves and you may not always be in an ideal position to create world peace one person at a time. Your truth is not a universal truth. Making a small difference may feel good, but having a big problem at work does not. So tread carefully, lightly, and hold tight, not to your beliefs, but to the possibility that the only mind you open today could be yours.

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